The Royals currently have MLB’s second worst record, and regardless of which team you are, that means that you’re nearly locked into your identity as a seller come the trade deadline at the end of July. They also had baseball’s second worst farm system prior to this year’s draft according to Fangraphs, and as such, despite the ample solid talent in the system, the farm could certainly use a couple more promising pieces. The Royals have several Major League weapons which should appeal to several suitors, and while their motivation to move all of them is questionable, they can come out looking like a much stronger future contender with the right moves at the deadline. With that being said, how likely are any of the potential trade candidates for the Royals to get moved, and what kind of return will they draw? Let’s take a look.
- Whit Merrifield
Merrifield is, without a doubt, the Royals’ best trade piece, and Dayton Moore continues to insist that Merrifield will not be traded save for an overwhelming return. Merrifield would boost any contending team a considerable amount, and for this reason every one of those teams will need to be willing to cough up said return. The Rays, Astros, Phillies, and Padres are all teams who would benefit greatly this year and in the coming years from the addition of Merrifield. It would be nice for each team to add another elite offensive option with guys like Kevin Kiermaier, Josh Reddick/Jose Altuve, Cesar Hernandez, and Manuel Margot, respectively, taking regular at-bats.
What would constitute an overwhelming return? Well, the Phillies don’t have an overwhelmingly deep farm system, but before this year’s draft, the Padres, Rays, and Astros had the first, second, and fifth-ranked farms respectively from which to deal. Ideally, the Royals are in pursuit of an elite position player prospect to headline the deal, especially an outfielder. Their 2018 draft yielded a slew of great pitching prospects, and while more arms never hurt, the Royals need to ensure that they have position players to fill a future lineup that provides run support for that rotation. With Adalberto Mondesi and Bobby Witt Jr. already, the infield looks a bit more predictable than the outfield. I would expect a deal like this to happen with a top 100 first base or outfield prospect as well as an upper level relief prospect and some supplemental pieces, perhaps a lottery ticket prospect or two, to complete the deal. With anything less than this, Dayton Moore almost certainly wouldn’t pull the trigger on moving Merrifield and his incredibly team-friendly contract. For dark horse teams to complete the deal, look toward the White Sox and Reds, who are close to making the final push into contention and would benefit greatly from Merrifield as a Zobristian cornerstone as they turn the corner into winning seasons moving forward.
- Alex Gordon
Gordon is perhaps a controversial trade piece, as he is having a revival year and would likely draw a mid-level prospect to spend the rest of the year on a different team for the first time in his career. However, it is arguably not worth trading him for an uncertain return, especially to Dayton Moore. Gordon has already stated that he hopes to spend the entirety of his career in Kansas City, and the potential future value of trading him for a somewhat minimal return almost certainly doesn’t outweigh the cost of Gordon losing that unique aspect of his career that has made him so important in Kansas City, especially in Moore’s mind. I wouldn’t expect Gordon to be moved at the deadline.
- Jorge Soler
Soler is an interesting case in his own regard, undeniably a beneficiary of his record home run rates this season. Assuming he stays healthy, he would boost any team offensively for the next two seasons at a fairly reasonable cost, and that makes him a valuable trade candidate, even though he is still young enough to be a contributor when the Royals come back around as a contender. Soler would likely draw an upper-level position player prospect, but I wouldn’t expect him to be traded, especially when the Royals believe that he hasn’t fully tapped into his own potential that once made him a highly rated prospect. Soler is a guy who I believe the Royals value as highly as any team, and for this reason I don’t think he’ll end up getting traded, but he’ll certainly be the subject of discussion for several teams.
- Terrance Gore
Gore will likely go for an almost identical deal as last year, when he was shipped to the Cubs for cash considerations as a pinch running option off the bench. In this sense, he could go to any contending team, and while this trade seems fairly likely, a considerable return of any sort shouldn’t be expected from it, especially if it’s a virtual repeat of last year’s deadline scenario.
- Billy Hamilton
Hamilton is a more interesting case than Gore, because he has a larger track record to boost his case and a larger contract to subtract from it. If the Royals want a prospect return of any kind for Hamilton, they’ll have to eat some salary, which they notoriously don’t do, even on the remainder of a one year, six million dollar deal. I would say the likelihood that Hamilton gets traded is a coin toss, and the Royals would be lucky to get a lottery ticket prospect out of the deal. Like Gore, Hamilton could go to any contender, as none really has a pinch runner on their bench now, but they would certainly consider it in the playoffs if they had Hamilton at their disposal.
- Martin Maldonado
Whether Maldonado is moved is also a coin toss, as he was brought up to fill innings after Salvador Perez’s Tommy John surgery, but I’d say it’s in the team’s best interest to ship him to a contender as a defensive backup catcher. He has already been traded in this role before, and any contending team would be better off with Maldonado as an option to take over behind the dish in a game where his ability to sway one ball-strike call can make all the difference. In return for Maldonado, the Angels received a mid to upper level pitching prospect, and the Royals should seek the same this season. Like Gore and Hamilton, about any team could use an upgrade for their backup catcher, so Maldy could go about anywhere. My guess would be the Diamondbacks, who are performing prematurely this year and for whom a low cost upgrade can’t hurt.
- Homer Bailey
After upping his strikeout rates from his previous two seasons with the Reds, Bailey looks like a great candidate for starting pitching depth for a contender, especially on a league minimum contract. As a lower tier two month rental, Bailey will likely draw a mid-tier prospect or lottery ticket player in return, but he seems as likely as anyone to find a new home come the end of the month. The Brewers certainly seem like a candidate, as they’re known to have one of the worst rotations among contenders and have somewhat of a connection with the Royals in recent years.
- Ian Kennedy
Kennedy has seen a revitalization in the bullpen after floundering in the rotation in recent years, and this makes him the most valuable arm that the Royals have to offer. Kennedy makes a lot of money this year and next, but he is wasted altogether in this Royals bullpen, and he would provide a welcome boost to any pen in the majors. The Royals would have to eat money to get any kind of return, but it seems more likely on this deal, where they would be capable of acquiring considerable talent for a veteran with a solid track record and good results this season. I would expect at least a mid-tier prospect, with the potential for a lottery ticket or a better prospect added on depending on how much of Kennedy’s contract the Royals want to pay for the next two years (this should be a lot, as they aren’t in a hurry to pay anyone else). Kennedy would go to a team with a good deal of cap space this year and next, which would be about anywhere but the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or Astros. Perhaps a reunion with the Diamondbacks is in order?
- Jake Diekman
Diekman is another veteran who has pitched well enough this season to warrant trade discussion, and unlike Kennedy, he is on a much more financially manageable deal. The Royals won’t eat any of his salary, and Diekman will get a return similar to Maldonado, if that. Like Kennedy, Diekman could go about anywhere, and maybe he is the right man for the Red Sox, who desperately need bullpen help but don’t have much cap space or prospect power to make it happen.
Ultimately, the Royals don’t have a ton of players who would command great improvements to the farm system, but they can make several deals happen which have the potential to make the future brighter. They can, at the very least, acquire several mid-tier and lottery ticket type prospects, which never hurt a franchise that is depending on some favorable player development in order to meet its goal of competing in a few years’ time. The best that the Royals can hope for is an eager buyer for Merrifield, which hasn’t emerged yet since last year’s deadline. Hopefully that changes this year, as that is the Royals’ best hope to add true impact players to the farm system, but at the very least the Royals can sell some players and truly sell themselves as a rebuilding team with the acquisition of more prospect potential.
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